The State of America's Libraries
Macey Morales
Manager, ALA Media Relations

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Libraries boost economic development



Public libraries also build a community’s capacity for economic activity and resiliency. The shift in the role of public libraries — from passive, recreational-reading and research institutions to active economic development agents — is documented in a study, Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development, commissioned by the Urban Libraries Council, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and released in January 2007.


In this era of economic transformation, the business of public libraries is being recast, the study said, and libraries today address such pressing urban issues as literacy, workforce training, small-business vitality and quality of community life. Public access to digital information and technology is a draw for libraries. Their open structure, combined with the power of new digital collections, technology and media, position them to help communities make the transition from manufacturing and service economies to high-tech and information economies. 


Four specific ways in which public libraries contribute to community economic development:

·         As the correlation between investments in early literacy and long-term economic success is documented, public libraries are expanding beyond their traditional services and engaging in high-impact strategies with community partners. These services are the first step in building the educated workforce that ensures local competitiveness in the knowledge economy.

·         With an array of public computers, Internet access and media products, public libraries are a first point of entry for many new technology users. 

·         When libraries work with local and state agencies to provide business development services, market entry costs for small businesses are reduced and new jobs are created. 

·         Libraries are frequented local destinations.  Urban Institute researchers repeatedly found that public libraries are highly regarded and are seen as contributing to stability, safety and quality of life in neighborhoods; they can attract tremendous foot traffic, provide long-term tenancy and complement neighboring retail and cultural destinations.


Academic and research libraries also support the development of strong economies. In The Rise of the Creative Class, economist Richard Florida  maintains that  communities with academic institutions employ and attract educated professionals, which correlates with a higher level of economic health.



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Libraries boost economic development